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Norman Bluhm


by Charlie Finch
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The great and classic dealer in color abstraction, Loretta Howard, hosted a reception a week or two ago for one painting, the late Norman Bluhm's 1974 Coney Island Beauty, now on view in the lobby of 499 Park Avenue through July 7, 2012.

The painting fits snugly into a black wall at a 45 degree angle leading to the elevators (there's a smaller Bluhm, an afterthought really, near the elevators). Coney Island Beauty is so colorful, with lipstick red forming an abstract one-piece bathing suit over the flesh of its zaftig figure and artfully changing waves on its horizon, moving from teal to aquamarine, that it will brighten any worker's day, maybe even grace their iPhones on the way to the subway. Its problem is its overwhelming debt to Pablo Picasso, as every curve is a direct steal from Pablo.

Translating Picasso into full abstraction doesn't eliminate the stark derivativeness of Coney Island Beauty, painfully exceeding an homage, but a doubling in the subject at hand restored, for a moment, to me, what is right about the painting, why I wanted to love it. The "beauty" depicted, you see, could be that chubby wastrel on the shore, but also the billboard of some Botero-sized babe adorning the games of chance, like SkeeBall, on the Coney Island boardwalk itself.

In this way, Norman Bluhm sprinkles that rarest of painterly qualities, humor, into his sparkling rolls of color and Picassoid line structure. The fun manifests itself with ease into the eye of any viewer, quickly glancing as she walks on by.

If this painting had eyes (and it doesn't, being wholly abstracto), it might wink back.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).